Jaw surgery, also known as orthognathic (or-thog-NATH-ik) surgery, corrects irregularities of the jaw bones and realigns the jaws and teeth to improve the way they work. Making these corrections may also improve your facial appearance.
Jaw surgery may be a corrective option if you have jaw problems that can’t be resolved with orthodontics alone. In most cases, you also have braces on your teeth before surgery and during recovery after surgery until healing and alignment are complete. Your orthodontist can work with your oral and jaw and face (maxillofacial) surgeon to determine your treatment plan.
Jaw surgery is appropriate after growth stops, usually around ages 14 to 16 years for females and ages 17 to 21 years for males.
Jaw surgery may help to:
Make biting and chewing easier and improve chewing overall
Correct problems with swallowing or speech
Minimize excessive wear and breakdown of the teeth
Correct bite fit or jaw closure issues, such as when the molars touch but the front teeth don’t touch (open bite)
Correct facial imbalance (asymmetry), such as small chins, underbites, overbites and crossbites
Improve the ability of the lips to fully close comfortably
Relieve pain caused by temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder and other jaw problems
Repair facial injury or birth defects
Provide relief for obstructive sleep apnea
Jaw surgery is generally safe when done by an experienced oral and maxillofacial surgeon, often in collaboration with an orthodontist.
Risks of surgery may include:
Relapse of the jaw to the original position
Problems with bite fit and jaw joint pain
Need for further surgery
Need for root canal therapy on selected teeth
Loss of a portion of the jaw
After surgery, you may experience:
Pain and swelling
Problems with eating that can be addressed with nutritional supplements or consultation with a dietitian
A brief time of adjustment to a new facial appearance
How you prepare
In most cases, an orthodontist places braces on your teeth before surgery. Braces are usually on for 12 to18 months before surgery to level and align your teeth in preparation for surgery.
Your orthodontist and oral and maxillofacial surgeon work together to develop your treatment plan. X-rays, pictures and models of your teeth are part of the planning for your jaw surgery. Occasionally, the difference in the way teeth fit together will require either reshaping of the teeth, covering the teeth with crowns or both to complete correction.
Three-dimensional CT scanning, computer-guided treatment planning and temporary orthodontic anchoring devices may be used to help in the movement of teeth and decrease your time in braces. Sometimes these efforts completely eliminate the need for jaw surgery.
Sometimes virtual surgical planning (VSP) will be used to guide your surgeon to fit and correct the jaw segment position during the procedure for the most optimal result.
What you can expect
Before the procedure
Jaw surgery is performed by oral and maxillofacial surgeons. Surgery is usually done under general anesthesia. Surgery takes place in the hospital and requires a two- to four-day stay.
During the procedure
Surgery usually can be performed inside your mouth, so no facial scars show on your chin, jaw or around the mouth. However, sometimes small incisions may be required outside your mouth.
Your surgeon makes cuts in the jawbones and moves them into the correct position. Once your jaw movement is completed, tiny bone plates, screws, wires and rubber bands may be used to secure the bones into their new position. These screws — which are smaller than a bracket used for braces — become integrated into the bone structure over time.
In some cases, extra bone may be added to the jaw. Your surgeon transfers the bone from your hip, leg or rib and secures it with plates and screws. In other cases, bone may be reshaped to provide a better fit.
Jaw surgery may be performed on the upper jaw, lower jaw, chin or any combination of these.